Updated: Nov 17, 2019
In anticipation, here you are: those pesky, same-same often-asked questions answered .... before you've even gotta' ask them. And: to educate the predictable few who have not taken a moment to be informed that this episode is NOT about demonising alcohol, and that in fact we are just here to support our mates in trouble.
So calm down. Have a read, and breathe ...
First up : sorry if you’re trying to get in touch or send a question - this has legitimately been the busiest few weeks of my life, so please be kind, considerate, and patient. And yep, I know that I completely suck as a friend right now. Five years has just basically come to a head - and it's like a proverbial explosion. Self-care, sleep, and even preparing / eating a meal or having a wee break right now is literally a challenge, so go gently, thanks.
SO anyhow - this blog, well, it's my way of preventatively, proactively fully informing those who are brand new to this discussion and might be chasing a little more info or clarification. This is actually also a heartfelt message to simply say that if you are watching (have watched) our programme that I do hope you get (got) the intent, purpose, and reasons behind why my husband, myself, and some INCREDIBLY brave rural friends opened our lives up like this.
In case you didn’t realise, all of ‘’this’’is, has been, and always will ultimately be for the sake of offering others hopefully a little spark of light and hope to know they’re not alone, and that there is a way back from the darkest of dark places.
But that begins with TRUTH, connection, and conversation. And as it stands – we sometimes aren’t really aware of how to do that in the bush when it comes to the horrifyingly complex and perilous topic of discussion that is the ‘’A’’ word. And our mates are dying, when they don't need to.
So, I decided to start that chat. Thankfully, many years later, it's now a chat that has the growing support of a rapidly growing army behind it – to whom I am very indebted. I have been alone with this for a very long time, so it's kind of amazing to finally have company.
Doing this thing was not about acknowledgement, recognition, praise, and most definitely not about me wanting to be some five-minute ‘influencer’ capitalising on vulnerable people or for the joy of being torn asunder by the ruthless monster of social media and the fly-by-night movements that come and go. I LOATHE that stuff, and ‘’fame’’ holds no appeal for me in this awful day and age. Doing this is about helping people who are invisible and in desperate need. And because we can SAVE LIVES BY TALKING. It's honestly that simple.
Finally, doing this certainly wasn’t comfortable, easy, or at times even fun. It obviously was not for the joy of seeing my un-botoxed 45 year-old battle-scarred face in horrifying and brutally honest close-ups (see ya’ later, dignity) ... AHEM, also – on that note: Dear Marc, Michael, Craig, and Anthony, I thought we spoke about this?? You’re SO not getting your Christmas cards! Lol.
In all seriousness, this was a very exhausting and confronting process. Not because I am scared about speaking the truth about the train-wreck that was my life, or the joy and hope that fills it now; but because it’s now officially well and truly out of my control.
And that is scary as hell.
On that note, dear friends, when you see the trolls, haters, and the sick people in our society pop up an unleash on me (and us) ... especially when it’s clear they’ve got no clue about who I am, what I stand for, or where I came from – PLEASE, for the love of God, don’t feel like you need to tag me or tell me. I do NOT NEED TO KNOW. Just share this blog, and the website, ask them politely if they are fully informed, and wish them a lovely day and walk on by.
We cannot fight hate with hate. I do not wish to engage.
But, for the sake of TOTAL, ABSOLUTE, crystal clear clarity about who we are | what I am; and what I do | we do – I would appreciate if you all took the time to be fully informed; because a half hour programme simply cannot cover a drop of this story in its entirety.
And context is essential for life, stories, and sanity.
So first up - some great news is that as of the 11th November we (SITC) have been granted official national charity status. We have literally last week become Sober in the Country Ltd.
Five years of blood, sweat, tears and 100% volunteer-related-advocacy (thanks to the unwavering support of my husband) have been behind this charity. 45 years are behind the little 1/2 hour snippet you'll see on TV. So be realistic, please and thanks.
So: To answer your next question: what will SITC officially be 'now'?
Glad you asked:
Well … the charity is going to basically continue the 5 years of work I have already done – but in a more official capacity: by raising awareness around the gaps in support, services, and available treatments for rural and remote Australians when it comes to alcohol addiction, misuse, and abuse in the bush.
This will be my (and the charity) life’s work and I’d love to think it’ll pass down long after I’ve left the building. It will be a marathon, as it already has been. Not a sprint. It will function in similar ways to other awareness-initiatives such as 'RUOK?' Day saving lives through peer-to-peer yarns and broader advocacy. Website explains all!
But: we are going to need help, support, and lots of both.
For the moment SITC is still just me and a couple of wing-men who have chipped in recently with their precious time. So yep – despite popular misinformation there is no ‘head office’ and there is no team of staff nor a single cent of income (as yet). Nothing I’ve done across media, travel, speaking, or helping others has been for profit and nothing I do in the future will be. Whatever revenue we generate from here goes straight back into the NFP. Bammo. Simples.
In anticipation of a few other things the uninformed will surely have a crack at; here are a few things we’d like to also clarify:
Tim and many of my friends and family still DRINK. Shock, horror. EGAD, etc. I know. Madness!
Yes, they do. But wait - before you lost your mind, please read on. My disease is nobody else’s burden. Also; Timbo and I made a plan back at Ground Zero and spent YEARS helping each other and getting to a place (today) where it’s 100% fine by me and safe for me. Our home was alcohol-free for the first 3 years. Etc etc. So breathe. Today, however, there is beer in our fridge and our guests are welcome to enjoy a cold one on our verandah. Because, simply, I no longer care for or am a ‘captive’ to booze. Not everybody shares this experience - and yep I CONSTANTLY speak about dangers in this area and how essential it is for individuals to follow their own recovery plan and path and put their own safety and sobriety at the top of a non-negotiable list. As the saying goes for those brand new to recovery - ''if you walk into a Barber's Shop enough times you'll end up with a haircut... '' - so ALWAY protect yourself! This is simply OUR reality in 2019, so please don’t get your knickers in a twist. I am what is known as a ''recovered alcoholic''. If you’re an AA devotee and you own a big blue book you can read all about that, or you already know. For the uninitiated this just means that while I don’t personally believe I could ever safely pick up a drink again (that would be insanity and suicide) – the point is I worked long and hard to find my freedom and grog no longer even registers on my radar as a ‘want’. It is irrelevant to me now. It makes me recoil but it doesn't worry me if someone else is enjoying a coldie. I could care less. (So long as you don't breathe on me!)
AND - that right there is partly why I do what I do. If I was a dry-drunk (a technically sober person but one who is utterly miserable and craving daily) I would NEVER, ever, be so arrogant and foolish as to risk my own safety and tackle this mammoth task. Because there is huge risk involved.
Moving right along:
I am not demonising alcohol or those who love a beer! More shock and horror, right?
Straight up; please let me tell you that my strict message to the production team at Australian Story and anybody I ever deal with in the media is this: ultimately this is a story that is raw and real, yes - but most importantly it’s overall a POSITIVE message full of hope and NOT about demonising booze or those who enjoy a beer (it’s never been about that) – it is rather all about acknowledging and accepting and being tolerant of our mates who cannot safely drink and whose lives hang in the balance. I have lost count of how many people have pulled their fangs out before I even open my mouth, and they assume I am a wowser who is anti-booze. Nope. Sorry to burst that bubble. What I am is anti-intolerance. I reckon if we are to be real mates, we should be accepting of those around us whether they are clutching a beer or a soda. Sadly - that isn't often the case.
I am not ‘against’ recovery groups.
I am 100% all for whatever the heck works for an individual; and I personally don’t believe in a one-size- fits all approach. But that’s just me, and just my opinion. I am not a therapist or an AOD worker … but as a recovered alcoholic from remote Australia; what I can say, for example, is that recovery meetings don’t tend to work in tiny towns where there is no such thing as anonymity.
(We can’t help folks if they won’t walk in the door, right?)
So on that note … if you’re here because you’re an AA fanatic to tear me down and you haven’t taken the time to be fully informed, knock yourself out, and watch this video. Read the website, and be informed. I’ve had this conversation about eleventeen billion times. I am on your side. I advocate that recovery is possible!
I am not some Guru or anyone’s answer or salvation.
My website and socials speak about this constantly. I do not and never will be arrogant or foolish enough to present as the ‘’solution’’ to the national rural health crisis when it comes to grog. Or to pretend I can save the planet. (If it was that easy I'd be kicking back in the Maldives, not wondering how to pay next week's rent.) Fixing this issue is a national project of mammoth proportions which will require hundreds of experts and probably millions of dollars; much like, say, the current methamphetamine inquiry Australia has in place. (Yes, that’s sarcasm you’re picking up on. And yes, I am aware this is a profit-before-people issue.) What I am going to say loud and clearly once again is that I am not a rocket-scientist, a service, a professional ‘AOD’ worker, a self-help Guru, a Queen, an influencer or an expert. I am just an everyday chick from the bush who happens to also be a garden-variety-recovered alcoholic. There is nothing special or unique going on here. I simply choose to use the skills I was blessed with to advocate and raise awareness and speak openly about my own story in the hope it might encourage others.
I am not a victim.
Also I do not and did not want sympathy and drama. The producers did originally want to delve into some sexual assaults and a rape and abusive relationships and whatnot in my younger years. Initially I tried, then I pulled the pin and said no. (Sorry again, Ben, I love you.) Why? Because while my back-story and the plentiful trauma and rubbish that happened along the way (not to mention the trauma I inflicted on others and myself during the height of my addiction) is 100% relevant for context and to explain the trauma/addiction/connection – this is a story about redemption, hope, and freedom. I do not dwell in the past any longer. The resentment and anger and fear from that time held me hostage long enough. That is NOT a bit of advice or commentary for others – it’s just my choice. So I choose to focus on the future now, and in freedom.
Honestly, if I could help others without ‘doing media’ I would.
Firstly – let me say that the crew at Australian Story have been absolutely bloody amazing. Hands-down they've become friends - we've all spent MONTHS together now and I have nothing but positive words to say. (Except for the close-ups .... LOL).
However, to entrust the vital parts of this message to a third party is always terrifying. And it was a major step outside my safety zone. I have been burned by media… including being misquoted, misrepresented, and treated like a disposable five-minute headline. Which is precisely why I am now a certified Diva about who I will or won’t work with; and about having total clarity, expectations, and boundaries in place. So please know at the end of the day, I do not do this for likes or popularity – I do it because it carries impact, and helps me reach people. And when you don't have a dollar in your budget - well, you've got to do stuff to get stuff done.
Having said that .. many outlets have received the end of a dial tone from me because the blatant lack of respect and care has been blindingly obvious - and that, I won't tolerate. Please, poppets, be VERY bloody careful if you’re engaging with media, especially in this space. I only do what I do because I have a tonne of experience in this space. Thank God.
Additionally – the rural space has copped an absolute pizzling in recent times thanks to some slightly ‘off’ media stories and productions that I shall not name – but I will say the fallout and impact of this has been horrific and me and many have struggled immensely watching the repercussions of unbalanced reporting on people we love and care for. So yeah, I am very cautious indeed and about as edgy as a cat on a hot tin roof as it is.
On a personal note - plenty of people from my immediate circle have been uncomfortable about me doing this production – and some have made that loud and clear, which simply added an extra level of pressure and stress. Again, it has NOT been easy. Please know that.
But, I (we) weighed it ALL up (taking part in this production) for a long, long time, and in the end I (we) realised that any personal condemnation or judgement we might come against was a small price to pay for the lives we believe it will impact; and for the value we believe it will hold in such a critical social issue.
I cannot even contemplate why somebody would be negative about this show. But I know it will happen. It’s already happening. On Thursday I was called a ‘fame-seeking’ fake, and an idiot chasing the money, who didn’t care for anybody. Moderately amusing given I rarely know how I will pay a bill from one month to the next. So yeah, it was hurtful, and grossly unfair - and it shattered me completely. Then, I had to remind myself that I too was once a VERY very sick, angry, irrational person who lashed out in pain. I have been an absolute douche-bag in the past myself and done and said plentiful things I later regretted. Which is why I try to operate now from a point of tolerance and forgiveness. But it is not easy when you are being slammed by strangers.
So on that note: can I just say, again, please just try to be nice. I am just a person trying to do a good thing - and it would be really splendid indeed if you didn't dissect me like an insect as opposed to an actual warm-blooded human with a heartbeat and these things called ''feelings'' ...
Also; the men and women who stepped up to take part in this programme are some of the bravest and most amazing people I know, so if you’re here to have a crack at any of them, well – I give you fair warning right now that it won’t be tolerated. I am fiercely protective of our Sober in the Country tribe, and my friends and family. I might be graceful about taking a hit myself - but I can't speak for how I will react if you go after my loved ones. I would well go full-rogue. Yes - I am kidding. But seriously, please do not be a dick. The rural world is TINY and I am about 180% certain you and I will have friends in common. Nastiness rarely ends well.
Moving right along.
My name is Shanna-like-Anna, Whan-like-Swan.
Allegedly my surname is of Scottish warrior origins, which I kind of love; because my beautiful, kind, gentle husband is, despite moderate-and-mild appearances 100% a fierce redheaded tower of strength and a total warrior. I love watching people underestimate that … anyhow, I digress. Point is, if I didn’t adore him so much I would NEVER have taken that surname because my life is now spent correcting how people say it, spell it, etc. Sorry, I know it's a pain.
I have a sense of humour. I got sober, not a lobotomy.
Guys at the end of the day I am seriously just a girl from the country who loves the country and advocates for you all. I love the bush, and I think we are being overlooked and ignored WAY too often in the working demographic in this particular area. So while this piece will be intense, it has to be. 90% of the time I am a complete idiot, and I am a lot more ''funner'' sober than I ever was when I was being scraped off the floor. Doesn't mean I don't still love to hang out with my mates who are enjoying a beer. See? It is that simple. Except, it isn't. Hence, the show.
Anyhow ..... I have to pack the ol' suitcase and flannie and head off to the next thing and try resurrect my exhausted face and mind. Wish me luck. If the show, or this blog, or the website doesn't answer your questions or satisfy your need to know how fair-dinkum I am, well, then I am buggered if I know what will, and I shall bid thee good-day and wish you well x
**I am no doubt going to keep adding to this blog as the trolls come out to play, and we will host an awards ceremony in a month’s time for the rudest and most misinformed of all the Trolls and share their ‘mean tweets’ and comments in a comedy skit... xx
Much love and hoo-roo for now,
Shanna, Fleabag, and the SITC tribe xx